Minister strengthens workplace safety rules

Provincial safety accreditation is now on the line for employers not in the business of providing safe workplaces for their employees.

Starting July 1 — Canada Day — Alberta employers who experience on-site fatalities, serious injuries or multiple stop work orders may face an immediate review of their safety accreditation.

Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk introduced changes Thursday to strengthen the occupational health and safety accreditation program for employers in Alberta.

And if their Certificate of Recognition is pulled, those employers won't receive their annual Partnerships in Injury Reduction rebates from the Workers' Compensation Board - Alberta and won't be able to bid on certain projects.

Most corporations including government of Alberta will not accept bids for any jobs unless the company has COR.

"If you want to build anything for this province, bridge, road, highway, building, we expect you to hold a valid COR certificate. Not having one precludes you basically from participating in the majority of projects in this province."

Lukaszuk announced three trigger points to "spark automatic review and if you don't comply, pulling of the COR certificate." He warned employers "now that I've increased the number of occupational health and safety officers, the odds of them showing up at your job site is much better than they were before."

Those triggers are: if there is a fatality, serious injury or incident; if two or more stop work orders are issued within a 12-month period; or if ongoing OHS officer activity indicates possible health and safety issues.

Lukaszuk pointed out that multiple stop work orders can be issued during a single visit to an employers depending on what an investigator finds.

If the review finds the business no longer meets the requirement for a COR, "it will be pulled and then you're losing your refund for that year, which can hit your pocketbook quite heavily, but more importantly you are precluded from bidding on any project with the majority of contractors in Alberta," he told Today.

In addition, there is the cost of the reinvestment by the employer to return health and safety practices and protocols to OH&S standards for the COR to be reissued.

"The COR program is flawed and ineffective, as the Auditor General pointed out in a damning report last year," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "While the stricter guidelines announced (Thursday) are a step in the right direction, they are not enough to reduce workplace deaths and injuries."

For these new guidelines to work, the system must be completely transparent, but the government has already proved it lacks the courage to make public the full safety records of employers, he added. It promised to post records nearly a decade ago, but bowed to industry lobbyists and launched a watered-down website that provides only lost-time claims a meaningless statistic that excludes the majority of workplace injuries.

"I made an undertaking about a year and a half ago to crack down on occupational health and safety and to somewhat shift the balance. It shifted the wrong way," he acknowledged.

The balance at that time between education and enforcement weighed more heavily towards enforcement.

There are 9,000 players — representing about 50% of all working Albertans — that hold a valid COR certificate which is awarded to them by certifying partners in industry.

"It's sort of like a college of business that award you this certificate after a thorough review of your business, safety practices and protocols. That then entitles you to a partial refund of your WCB premiums at the end of the year which could be very significant," said Lukaszuk.

"Some $70 million annually is given back to those COR holders."

However, one of the weaknesses he said he identified was that over time, employers may let that commitment to COR standards slide.

"Once you get certified as living up to the requirements of COR, there really were no trigger methods to review you from time to time if you still conform to the requirements of COR. So in my opinion, having a COR certificate simple meant that you, at one point in time, have perhaps complied, but you may or may not be complying right now."

He won't be too upset if a company has its COR pulled, but Lukaszuk said, "if the certifying partners pull the COR, then trust me, I won't be feeling sad. I'll be glad that we removed that player from action."

In gauging reaction from employers from the tougher rules, Lukaszuk said he prefers to introduce such game-changing in collaboration with those involved.

"One thing I learned in a hurry: if you don't have a buy-in to begin with, you're buying yourself a lot of bad road and then you really have to heavily enforce. So with all these new measures that I put into place over the last year, I always try to collaborate with the labour movement and with the employers and with the safety associations.

"I think I have relative buy-in from all the players."

Fort McMurray Today, Fri Jun 3 2011
Byline: Carol Christian

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